A coin-operated breathalyzer machine in Winnipeg pubs is supposed to raise money for burn victims, but is raising a lot of questions instead.
"We're not sure if the money's going to charity," said King's Head Pub owner Jay Khanuja. On Friday, he had the Burn Victims Aid Society machine unplugged and was waiting for it to be removed from the tavern.
The other concern was whether the machine could accurately read someone's blood-alcohol level, he said.
"We do a lot of charities," he said, such as raising money for the Children's Rehabilitation Foundation and breast cancer research at the pub.
When the Burn Victims Aid Society representative contacted him, Khanuja said he believed they were connected to a local burn fund. He agreed to have the breathalyzer put in Nov. 1. When he learned that wasn't the case, he decided to send the machine back.
"It's too gimmicky," he said.
The chairman of the Firefighters Burn Fund of Manitoba said the Burn Victims Aid Society didn't contact him about the machines before approaching Winnipeg bars and restaurants to put them in.
"I had never heard of them before," said Martin Johnson, who contacted his board and the firefighters' union. "Nobody had heard of them before, either."
While the burn fund is a registered charity, the Burn Victims Aid Society is not. It is a registered non-profit organization that isn't required to report as much information as a charity. It cannot issue tax receipts.
Johnson found out about the society when a Winnipeg restaurant owner contacted the burn fund to see if anyone knew about coin-operated breathalyzers being used to raise money for burn victims. The restaurateur forwarded an e-mail riddled with spelling mistakes from a woman from the society identified as Jen, saying: "We have done work with the local burn unit and we defeinitely do thinigs to heelp with the community, hence why the guys are helping us with this particular program."
Johnson was alarmed and posted a notice on the Manitoba charity's website: "It has come to our attention that a group that calls itself 'Burn Victims Aid Society' (BVAS) is contacting businesses in Winnipeg with a fundraising scheme involving coin-operated breathalyzer. They claim to 'have done work with the local burn unit and the guys are helping them'. We find no proof that either claim has merit."
The chairman of the society is upset over media reports questioning the accuracy of the breathalyzers and the legitimacy of its philanthropy. "It looks so bad, my girlfriend is bawling," said Julius Zanoni in Edmonton. "I'm embarrassed. It sucks."
Zanoni said the non-profit organization has 10 machines in Winnipeg. He said they decided to put them in Winnipeg because there were none here. They've collected $780 in the last three weeks and he offered it to the Manitoba burn fund, but it refused. He said it will be donated to a Winnipeg charity for children.
Winnipeg police say unless the machine is tested, calibrated, serviced and certified, it won't meet criteria set out in the Criminal Code."